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Determination, friendship, ‘kind heart’ help Bryant-Jordan winner overcome neglect – AL.com

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Styles Hughes plays right field for the Sylvania High School Rams and is a 2022 Bryant-Jordan Achievement Award winner. Hughes will be honored at the annual banquet on April 11, 2022, at the Sheraton Birmingham. (Contributed)
After hearing the life story of Sylvania High School senior Styles Hughes, one question springs to mind: How did he become a 3.7 GPA student, an All-DeKalb County football player, a Faulkner University football signee?
After hearing from him and some of those closest to him, you learn that he’s a thoughtful teen who has overcome challenges that, unfortunately, too many young people face.
Here’s how he put it in the introduction of his nomination narrative for the 2022 Bryant-Jordan Scholarship Program’s Achievement Award:
“I was a child born into this world facing many challenges. My father never married my mother and has not been a part of my life over the past 18 years. He has been in and out of jail and suffers from drug addiction. My mother was not prepared to be a mother and faced many addictions as well. She still deals with drug addiction and alcoholism today.”
Hughes is a regional winner in the Bryant-Jordan Foundation Scholarship Program’s Achievement category, which honors senior athletes who have overcome personal adversity to excel. All regional winners receive a $3,000 scholarship and could win more at the annual awards banquet on Monday at the Sheraton Birmingham.
“I believe what made me excel was seeing what my mom was doing,” Hughes told AL.com. “When she was in high school, she was very smart; she had a 3.6, 3.7 GPA. I saw the path she went down through my early years and I wanted to strive to be better.”
As a young boy, Hughes’ life was full of uncertainty and, at times, fear. He and his mother moved 22 times before his 13th birthday. Strangers in his home were a constant – along with drug and alcohol use. He recalled once when he saw his mother being strangled by a boyfriend. “I thought he was going to end her life and I had to intervene. He had her by the throat and her feet were not touching the floor. To this day, I can still see her face turning purple and blue. I was only 5 or 6 so I really don’t know how I managed to get him away from her, but I did.”
Another time someone robbed his home, taking all of his clothes, his shoes, his video games and television.
Food insecurity was a constant in his young life. He said rarely did he have regular meals at home and often there were “eight or nine people living with us at the same time,” all eating whatever food was available. School lunches were the only consistent meals Hughes had.
Hughes found refuge with his maternal grandparents, but when they lost in their petitioning of the court for custody, his mother moved an hour away from them and his visits were curtailed. Eventually, he was able to live with them – but his grandfather died when Hughes was about 13. The youngster stayed with his grandmother, Patsy, but she suffered a massive stroke near the end of his freshman year in high school and ended up in a nursing home.
“I call her a lot and go visit her a lot,” Hughes said. “At the moment, it’s a struggle for her to walk. She has to use a walker and most of the time she’s in a wheelchair.
“My grandma always tried to make sure I was taken care of, all the way until the bitter end when she couldn’t. She got me to school every day, to football and baseball practice every day. That was a big thing.
“She told me that she’s had failures in her life and she said that I could be way, way better – even better than she was,” Hughes said. “She said to use my mother as an example and to rise above it. She told me to persevere through adversity.”
Sylvania High School Bryant-Jordan Achievement Award winner Styles Hughes, right, poses with his friend, Brett Sims, in this undated photo. Hughes will be honored at the annual banquet on April 11, 2022, at the Sheraton Birmingham. (Contributed)
After his grandmother’s stroke, Hughes found a lifeline through his friendship with football teammate Brett Sims.
“Styles is friends with my son and I guess I’d say my son has a very big heart,” said Scarlett Sims. “Brett noticed things were not going the way they needed to go. I think he felt very burdened. I think he first sensed it when Styles didn’t get anything for Christmas. He wanted to spend his money reaching out for Styles. That’s the first way we got involved.”
Hughes said he started staying over at the Sims’ home on weekends after his freshman football season. “Then, it got longer and longer and I started staying during the school week,” he said. “After my grandmother’s stroke, I haven’t been able to be with any blood family. I had to find a way out and one of my buddy’s mom’s offered a way out. I’ve been greatly blessed by that.”
Sims said she noticed that Hughes needed clothes and other essentials. “I think at times he was home alone with no food for extended periods. Sometimes he’d call and just ask my son to come get him.
“I realized how major the issues were when I was buying him some clothes and saw that he’d lost 20 pounds. It became a reality that it needed to be more than just a friendship.”
Hughes said besides his grandmother, one of his biggest role models is Brett’s father, Robbie, a vice president for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee. “I strongly look up to him,” he said. “I see how he perseveres through his high-stress job. He’s able to stay cool under pressure, it’s just the way he goes through his everyday life. He is so laid back and has a sense everything is going to be OK. I love that about him.”
Sports has also provided solace to Hughes, who was named football team captain for the Rams this season and earned All-Region honors.
“When I was little I saw pee-wee baseball I thought it was cool and I wanted to try it,” he said. “My uncle was a really good receiver and punter for Sylvania and I thought if he did it that it has to be cool and it must be something I’d have to try.
“Later, when I was going through what I had to go through, I saw sports as an outlet. I would get to the fieldhouse a little early and stay later and work harder. It was a place I could hang out and just chill there for a while.”
Hughes said his coaches didn’t know about his home life until the summer before his sophomore year when “they noticed something wasn’t right. They asked about it and I told them. I’m an open book. They were very supportive and offered to help.”
Styles Hughes heads for the open field for Sylvania High School in this undated file photo. Hughes is running with his blocker, Sidney Dekker. Hughes is a 2022 Bryant-Jordan Achievement Award winner and will be honored at the annual banquet on April 11, 2022, at the Sheraton Birmingham. (Submitted)
In his letter supporting Hughes’ Bryant-Jordan Award nomination, baseball coach Ian Richards said, “Styles has overcome far more than a teenager should, and yet he is a great student, an excellent athlete and a leader both in his school and community. … Styles truly has the most giving, compassionate and kind heart of any kid I have had the honor of coaching.
“Styles deserves the best this life has to offer because he has worked tirelessly and earned everything he has received. He could have been bitter by past experiences in his life, but he has chosen to live a life of service and is a pleasure to others.”
Sims, who is a K-3 reading specialist at Sylvania, said Hughes “has a huge heart.”
“He’s very quiet and reserved,” she said. “He’s a deep thinker. He’s a ‘yes, ma’am, no ma’am’ type. Anything I ask, he does. All the years he’s been in our home, he’s never bad-mouthed his mother or dad or the cards that he’s been dealt.”
Hughes has plans for college besides football. He is thinking of majoring in business. “I would love to open my own business or pursue a career in real estate,” he said. He plans to continue to work in the summer – Hughes said Sims often finds the two boys at home odd jobs around the community now – and he hopes to be able to “give back to my community and help someone that has faced the challenges that I have.
“I treat people how I want to be treated,” he said. “That goes for everybody. I have friends who are band people, who are football and baseball people. I’m friends with at least 90 percent of the people in my grade.
“Sometimes I talk with kids in the seventh or eighth grade – some of them are in the same situation I was in or maybe mine was not as bad as theirs. I tell them to hold their head up and everything will be all right, to stay determined and keep working and it will turn out OK.”
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